It’s been two years since we last heard from Brooklyn’s Crystal Stilts with 2011’s two solid releases, In Love With Oblivion and The Radiant Door EP but Nature Noir has been worth the wait. This record shows a band sticking with their distinct sound while adding new tricks, styles and production to make a slicker and tighter version of their earlier records.
Nature Noir kicks off with the slow woozy jam, Spirit in Front Of Me, sticking with the 60s psychedelic sound Crystal Stilts are so fond of. The fuzzy guitars and Doors influenced keyboard organs roll along with Brad Hargett’s vocals. Hargett sounds like a bored Jim Morrison singing to you from the back of a cave and his echoed croon continues into Star crawl; a great track with the intertwining bass and snappy guitars combining brilliantly to pick the albums pace up. Hargett sings, “We found a place to be free/And left all the religion…But I’m too tired baby” while a gorgeous lead guitar line from JB Townsend comes in half way through to underscore the tracks jive perfectly.
The momentum of Nature Noir continues on the recently revealed rhythmic Future Folklore which wouldn’t sound out of place on a classic Velvet Underground record with its gently stomping bass and drums. Future Folklore is only bettered by Sticks and Stones which struts from the moody murk of the first three tracks to show off a new dimension to the Stilts’ sound. Gone is the shoddy reverb that usually covers Hargett’s vocals. On Sticks and Stones Hargett is allowed to croon softly and sweetly about, “Beautiful kids that are made to go astray”. At only just over two minutes long and with its simple, snappy premise, it’s the most accessible Crystal Stilts have sounded and, along with Star Crawl, the closest they’ve come to creating a catchy hit single.
Nature Noir then dips slightly with the gloomy swamp of Memory Room that none the less features some nice production techniques with weeping strings adding to the sadness of a song that asks you to, “Forget about the afterlife”.
Things pick up again with the excellent, World’s Gone Weird. Again sounding like the new, improved and tighter Crystal Stilts, the echo is back on Hargett’s smooth vocals which compliment Sterling Morrison strummed 60’s guitars and psychedelic breakdowns perfectly. The next track, Darken the Door, is a nice slice of garage pop that keeps it short and snappy before trailing off into a minute of strange instrumental noises that move you perfectly into Electrons Risings’ rambling jam.
Fans of the bands old five minute long psych freak-outs will have to make do as they are significantly lacking on this record. The title track, Nature Noir, crawls along oh so mellow with the “Oh we just rustled this one up the other afternoon in the basement” vibe the Stilts are so good at. Hargett sounds so relaxed on the title track that you can imagine him recording his vocals while lying on the floor.
Phases Forever is a bit of a damp ending but does feature a lovely understated string section which gives the record a sombre yet grandiose finish. Ultimately the second half of Nature Noir is not as strong as its first six tracks but it’s those tunes alone that will be enough to bring you back to the album for repeated listens. Repeated listens which will undoubtedly help you unearth some hidden gems among the more slower, sombre efforts towards the end. Numerous groups have traded off the late 60’s psychedelic sound over the years but there are few around at the moment who do it as well or with such charisma as the Crystal Stilts. It’s good to have them back and expect these songs to feature on all your autumnal, nostalgia laden playlists.
By Josh Bennett